It's a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a fox. Geert Hendrix, Serena Lee and Dr Wilson Lennard, from Alphington-based start-up Farmwall, have devised a small-scale indoor farm for restaurants and cafes that allows chefs to grow and harvest their own herbs and microgreens in a space the size of a bookcase.
Farmwall has crowdfunded its first three vertical farms, which will be custom-designed and installed in restaurant kitchens and dining rooms after consultations with chefs and restaurateurs.
Once chefs have selected the plants they want to serve, Farmwall will take care of the rest, making weekly visits with trays of germinated seeds.
The company's first customer is Nathan Toleman, who is installing vertical farms at his cafes Higher Ground and Top Paddock. Toleman says the cafes spend a fortune on herbs, which often come in individual plastic packets.
"There's so much waste product, and we thought we could firstly save money, and secondly save waste. There's nothing fresher than herbs you grow right there and we can harvest them as we need them."
The herbs grow under lights in trays lined with organic hemp fibre, a waste product. The water that wets the hemp mats and germinates the seeds cycles through a fishtank, with the filtered fish waste feeding the growing plants.
"It's 100 per cent natural," says Geert Hendrix. "It's an ecosystem so we never have to clean the water out, although we have to monitor it to keep the ecosystem in balance."
The company's next step is to build Melbourne's first commercial aquaponic farm at the rehabilitated former tip in Alphington.